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Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax). © Tours University, Eric Darrouzet

Humans not necessarily to blame for rapid expansion of Asian hornet

The rapid expansion of the yellow-legged hornet, or Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrithorax), in Europe is not necessarily linked to human activity. Such is the finding of a team from François-Rabelais University, INRA and the CNRS1 in a study published in Journal of Applied Ecology. Their work shows that targeted steps can be taken to greatly reduce the progression and impact of this invasive species.

Updated on 08/09/2016
Published on 06/28/2016

Since it accidentally arrived in France around 2004, the Asian hornet has gained significant ground in Europe. This invasive species brings problems related to human health (allergies and some attacks leading to deaths), the economy (the beekeeping sector is particularly vulnerable, with attacks on hives), and the environment (the hornet is an undiscriminating predator and may have an affect on biodiversity). Since its arrival, the number of colonies has increased rapidly year after year in colonised territories (e.g., in Indre-et-Loire, there were 3 colonies in 2009, 10 in 2010, 41 in 2011, 202 in 2012, 466 in 2013, more than 600 in 2014, and one thousand in 2015).

Researchers from the Insect Biology Research Institute (François-Rabelais University /CNRS, Tours) and INRA’s Forestry Zoology Research Unit in Val-de-Loire have developed a mathematical model that simulates the progression of the Asian hornet in France by using both biological data and data gathered in the field. Notably, they based their studies on data from the programme for participatory science of the Museum of Natural History (http://frelonasiatique.mnhn.fr). The model allowed them to test several scenarios:

  • The spread of the Asian hornet without human intervention.
  • The combination of natural progression of the hornet and progression due to human activity (accidental transport by Man).
  •  Consequences of eradicating hornet colonies.

Findings indicate that the expansion front of the Asian hornet progresses by an average of 78 kilometres each year. The researchers found that the reasons for such swift colonisation are related solely to the hornet’s capacity to spread, and cannot be systematically blamed on humans. When it comes to specifically targeting the hornet, the model revealed that when strategies are considerably stepped up, they are successful in sharply curbing the hornet’s expansion and population density, but not in eradicating the invasive species. Intensifying efforts to target the hornet is therefore necessary to keep the insect at bay in future, and mitigate its impact. Current insect traps, which use food for bait, are not selective, which is why a selective trap must be developed that specifically targets the Asian hornet.


1The study brings together researchers from the Insect Biology Research Institute (François Rabelais University, CNRS) and INRA’s Forestry Zoology Research Unit in Val-de-Loire.



Christelle ROBINET, Christelle SUPPO, Eric DARROUZET. Rapid spread of the invasive yellow-legged hornet in France: the role of human-mediated dispersal and the effects of control measures. 18 June 2016, Journal of Applied Ecology.  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12724.

Scientific contact(s):

Press Relations:
INRA News Office (33 (0)1 42 75 91 86), Audrey Moullec / Communication Department – Université François-Rabelais (33 (0)2 47 36 64 16)
Associated Division(s):
Forest, Grassland and Freshwater Ecology, Plant Health and Environment
Associated Centre(s):
Val de Loire

about the researchers

The Insect Biology Research Institute (IRBI) is a joint research unit of the University of Tours and the CNRS. It focuses on analysing adaptive and evolutionary processes at all levels of organisation, from genomes to communities. Research is based on methods and concepts of ecology, functional morphology, genetics and evolutionary biology. Studies are characterised by the models used, insects, and by an integrative approach to issues, thanks to a diversity of skills and collaborative networks of its researchers.

INRA’s Forest Zoology Research Unit (URZF) in its Val-de-Loire centre in Orléans studies the mechanisms that govern insect populations that are expanding due to human activity and environmental changes. The research it carries out seeks to characterise, in terms of genetics, physiology and behaviour, invasive or expanding forest insect populations under the influence of climate change; analyse the mechanisms at the root of successful biological insect invasions; measure ecological and economic risks; and find ways to manage the situation.